moviebuff801: Superman Returns (2006) Review

Posted: June 13, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: June 28th, 2006

Running Time: 2 hours and 34 minutes

Written by: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Starring: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Frank Langella

I didn’t grow up rabidly devouring comic books, but I did keep up with the two “flagship” superheroes, Batman and Superman, by way of each of their respective animated and movie series.  Personally, I’ve always been more of a Batman fellow; even as a young kid, Superman never really captured my interest in the same way as the Dark Knight.  I think I can attribute that to the simple opinions of me finding Superman to not only be too indestructible for the most part, but also that I don’t find him to be that interesting of a character.  Not to mention him having the flimsiest alter ego “disguise” for any superhero, like, ever.  But still, I DO like Richard Donner’s 1978 film a great deal (in fact, it’s amongst my 15 Favorite Superhero Films) and when it was announced that director Bryan Singer had been given the reigns to a Superman reboot, my interest was undeniably piqued…only to have it fizzle out in disappointment.  My problems with Superman Returns, though, lie far beyond my two aforementioned ones.

Serving as more of a sequel to Superman II, and thus attempting to completely erase the events of that film’s ACTUAL sequels, Superman Returns opens as the Man of Steel returns to planet Earth after a five-year hiatus and fruitless expedition to explore the possible remains of Krypton.  And, as he discovers, much has changed in those five years.  For one, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) managed to avoid a lifetime jail sentence due to Superman’s journey keeping him from testifying at the criminal’s hearing.  Dear old Lex has been spending said time acquiring the resources to visit the Fortress of Solitude for mysterious purposes.  Meanwhile, and more devastatingly to Superman, his reporter crush Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) now has a five year-old son and a handsome fiance (James Marsden) to boot.  Not only that, but she’s won the Pulitzer for writing an article with a very on-the-nose title: “Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman.”  But there’s no time for moping around, Supes, because Lex Luthor is on the verge of enacting his master plan: to use Kryptonian crystals stolen from the Fortress of Solitude to create entirely new landmasses by shooting them into the seabed.  In short, it’s the real estate scheme to end all real estate schemes.  And it’s up to Superman to put aside his personal woes and stop his old nemesis before he can create a new Earth.

As I mentioned, I have issues with this film that don’t lie solely in my personal preferences.  So, let’s work our way out by starting with the central problem of Superman Returns: the dull, ordinary script.  This movie came out at a time when the superhero genre was experiencing its rebirth, and in the two direct years before it was released, we got two of the best superhero movies ever made: Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins.  Now, to its credit, Superman Returns DOES take a few risks by subverting and playing around with the dynamics of this universe we’ve come to know so well.  But the inherent problem here is that the script, and in effect the film as a whole, suffers from a serious lack of personality.  As a result, things just happen in this movie without any weight or any other true feelings of significance.  Whether it be a plane crash sequence that should be exciting or an intimate scene between two characters that should be more emotionally involving, Superman Returns instead elicits a feeling of neutrality which is ever-present throughout the film’s 154-minute running time.  It’s just plain boring, for the most part, and even the color palette is dull.

There’s just no energy to this movie, nor any “wow” factor.  Usually in these movies when we see the heroes in costume for the first time, there’s a reaction of “Hell yes!” or something in that ballpark.  Here, when Superman dons his costume, it’s more like “Oh…there’s Superman.”  Action scenes such as when Superman is trying to save a free-falling airplane or when he’s pushing a corrugated landmass out into space feel curiously perfunctory.  Then again, the real problem with the action sequences is they’re just not very good.  None of them are ever all that interesting, and considering that this is a Superman movie, that’s quite disappointing.  I mean, the climax of this film is essentially just Superman lifting a big chunk of rock into the air and flying it out into orbit.  Wow…how exciting.  Granted, there’s Kryptonite embedded in that rock, but still, this is Superman, give him a threat that really utilizes his powers.  It’s not often I find myself saying a movie needed more action, but in the case of Superman Returns, it could have benefitted from less pathos and more excitement. I mean, the trailers for this movie were pretty awesome. Just look:

Now, if the acting had been better, I wouldn’t have had such a problem there.  But the acting here leaves a lot to be desired.  Brandon Routh is not only wooden in the duo role of Superman/Clark Kent, it also feels like he’s constantly in Christopher Reeve’s shadow, more of an understudy than a main star, and he never really defines either role as his own.  Re-watching this movie again, I picked up more on just how little dialogue Routh has in the first half hour.  Kate Bosworth’s portrayal of Lois Lane also feels off, and the character comes off more as annoying than anything else.  And as you can imagine, it doesn’t feel like there’s much chemistry between her and Superman, which is especially frustrating since most of the movie revolves around them.  Frank Langella lacks the gruffness associated with Perry White and even Jason, Lois’s son, doesn’t have any real spunk; he’s just a forgettable kid.

On the other hand, I actually really like Kevin Spacey’s performance as Lex Luthor.  He manages to be menacing, but also adds on just the right amount of cheese when need be.  I found him to be a definite threat and one of the highlights of the movie.  And while I’m on the positives, the special effects are often pretty good.

By the way, while on the subject of Lex Luthor, his overall scheme in this movie is pretty stupid.  Not only is it a lackluster, overblown real estate plot that seems typical of the character, it’s also flawed in that the land that these Kryptonian crystals produce seems vastly uninhabitable.  And even if it is, not only does it look like it’ll take years for humanity to adapt to it all, but who’s gonna want to live on all these jagged rocks?  As much as I like Bryan Singer, he needed to dial back on all the nostalgia and tinker with the script more.

I wouldn’t call Superman Returns a BAD movie, though, just an extremely mediocre one; nothing worthy of a “Holy Kryptonite, Superman!”  The script needed more work, the performances are bland and the action uninspired.  It’s frustrating, though, because I have given this film more than a few shots, but it keeps on disappointing me.  And while on my most current viewing I wasn’t as bored as I’ve been before, I still wasn’t invested.  It feels like Bryan Singer wanted to play in Richard Donner’s sandbox, but forgot the rules of the game.


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